Food scarcity is a human problem around the world, including in Israel. Food waste is also a problem. Our modern culture faces a strange dilemma… many people need food while at the same time many other people throw food away.
When Jews and Christians around the world read this week’s Torah portion, titled “Kedoshim” (Hebrew for “holy ones”), they will study Leviticus chapters 19 and 20. In that portion, God gave Moses many specific instructions to pass along to the Jewish people. These instructions pertained to Sabbath observance, honoring one’s parents, a prohibition against slandering others, moral uprightness, and kosher instructions. Some of these commands from the Lord impact one’s own heart and spirituality while some others guide a person’s interactions with other people.
One specific command, though, may seem outdated in today’s culture. For those who do not work on farms or even think often about the agricultural process, how could they obey this instruction from God?
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:9-10
Many questions arise when reading this passage. How can Bible students read the words of the Torah, written over 3,000 years ago, and apply the lessons to today’s life? How can modern people who do not grow their own food or plow their own farmland obey this spiritual assignment? What did God intend when He commanded, “you shall leave them for the needy”?
One more question… with so many people going hungry and so much healthy food going uneaten, can we find a solution to this problem?
Israelnationalnews.com reported in March of 2018 (quoting Chen Herzog of BDO Consulting), “Every year in Israel, food worth 90.3 billion shekels is lost, is wasted. From a national point of view…1.6% of Israel’s GDP is lost. If we rescue this food and provide it to the needy, we can, in a very cost-effective way, eliminate the food insecurity problem in Israel.”
The Jerusalem Post reported, also in March of 2018, “that only 28,000 tons of food – accounting for only 1.2% of food wasted each year – is rescued in Israel, valued at NIS 140 million.”
One organization trying to find a modern solution to this centuries-old problem is Leket Israel. Their website (www.leket.org) says that their “sole focus is rescuing healthy, surplus food and delivering it to those in need through partner nonprofit organizations.” They describe their organization’s vision as “an Israel where all surplus, nutritious food is rescued and directed to those who need it.”
Most readers would support the idea of providing food to those who need it. Most would agree that throwing surplus food in the garbage is a waste of valuable resources that could be used to benefit families who are struggling financially and unable to provide enough healthy food for themselves. We should all hope that hungry people would find healthy nourishment.
How is Leket Israel doing in their mission accomplishment? Their website says that, as of 2018, “200 nonprofit associations… receive food from Leket Israel and deliver it to 175,000 needy Israelis per week.” That is an impressive number… 175,000 Israelis receiving food from their neighbors each week, providing nutrition to those who need it most.
For some perspective, one could wonder about the significance of 175,000 Israelis. What does that number really mean? Well, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2014 the average household size in the country was 3.72 people (a little more for Arab homes and a little less for Jewish homes). If you divide 175,000 by 3.72, you learn that Leket Israel assists an average of 47,043 households per week with one of life’s most basic needs. That really is “delivering it to those in need.”
Put another way, Israelis reclaiming and sharing food with 175,000 people means that those who are no longer hungry now outnumber the current populations of Ashkelon or Beit Shemesh and represent almost as many people as live in Beersheba today. This extraordinary number means that Leket Israel is truly accomplishing their goal of rescuing food and directing it to those who need it.
I am sure that there are more than 175,000 Israelis who need food assistance and there is more unused food that could be donated, but this seems like a great start. As we consider the efforts of organizations like Leket Israel, we should remember this week’s Torah portion and ask, “Does leaving food behind when you harvest really help someone else?” Said another way… would donating food “for the needy and the stranger” really make an impact on another person’s life and future?
Students of the Bible will remember a famous story in the Book of Ruth chapter 2 when Ruth, a widow from Moab, gleans in the field of Boaz, a landowner in Judah (specifically Bethlehem). A woman from another people group (a “stranger”) who would have likely gone hungry was able to eat because Boaz obeyed the Lord’s commands given in Leviticus 19:9 to “not reap to the very corners of your field.”
The account in the Book of Ruth provides a great teaching illustration that one’s obedience to God’s commands can serve as a blessing to many. Boaz had more food than he needed and generously gave food to Ruth, someone who did not have enough food. This exchange of edible food would be a great result if that was the end of the story. But, as you may remember, Ruth and Boaz did not simply enjoy a meal. They eventually got married when Boaz acted as Ruth’s kinsman redeemer. The new husband and wife would later become ancestors in the family lineage of King David (see Ruth 4:21-22). For Christians, a reading of the first New Testament book will remind them that Ruth and Boaz appear prominently in the family lineage of one to come after David, Jesus of Nazareth (see Matthew 1:5-6).
The Lord told Moses to tell ancient harvesters, “you shall leave them for the needy and the stranger.” In Israel and in Texas, we should applaud those who seek to share their abundance with those who lack. We can assist organizations who transfer resources like unused food to people who otherwise might go hungry. We can also seek to learn the Lord’s commands and obey them in a modern context, living as a Boaz in our times. Do you know anyone in need? What can you share this week?